<-Back to translation project

On line translation software tools: Babelfish( 30 Jul.2001)

The internet gives access to a variety of on line free sotware tools for translation.
Today's technology is such that these tools are not perfect yet, but it seemed worthwhile to test one of these programs to determine the help it can provide the translator with. Here is an original article taken from Telerama's web site (http://cinema.telerama.fr/edito/cine/11_04_01/gloups.asp?fr=1( 30 Jul.2001)), its translation into English by BabelFish, and my own translation of the same text:

Original Text
Babelfish Translation
Human Translation
Gloups ! Je suis un poisson! Bonne pêche avec ce dessin animé danois peuplé d'hippocampes timides et de méduses à lunettes.

En mer, trois enfants absorbent par accident un élixir magique. Gloups, ils sont transformés en bébêtes aquatiques. Regloups, l'antidote du produit se répand dans les branchies douteuses de Joe, un poisson pilote. La vilaine bestiole se mue aussi sec en dictateur mégalo des grands fonds. Un titre à bulles, un poisson à casquette, une méduse à lunettes : si l'on y plonge distraitement, ce dessin animé danois semble croiser dans le sillage attendu et coloré de La Petite Sirène. Fausse piste : tendre, frétillante, astucieuse, la petite friture européenne se démarque gentiment de la baleine Disney. Dans sa forme surtout : le mélange rêveur de techniques traditionnelles et d'animation en 3D permet de jolies audaces poétiques (la vision d'un paquebot naufragé, transformé en gigantesque Metropolis piscicole). Les personnages, plus classiques (super-méchant doucereux contre bambins malins), raviront les enfants : requin glouton et bêta, crabe martial, hippocampe timide... Une bonne pêche ! -
Gloups! I am a fish! Bonne fishing with this Danish animated drawing populated timid hippocampi and jellyfishes with glasses.

At sea, three children absorb by accident a magic elixir. Gloups, they are transformed into bébêtes watery. Regloups, the antidote of the product is spread in the doubtful gills of Joe, a pilot fish. The unpleasant small beast moults itself also dry as a dictator megalomaniac of deep seas. A title with bubbles, a fish with cap, a jellyfish with glasses: if one plunges there abstractedly, this Danish animated drawing seems to cross in the wake awaited and coloured Small Siren. Distort track: to tighten, fretillante, astute, the small European crackling dissociates Disney whale nicely. In its form especially: the dreamer mixture of traditional techniques and animation in 3D allows pretty poetic audacities (vision of a steamer shipwrecked man, transformed into gigantic piscicultural Metropolis). The characters, more traditional (super-malicious doucereux against malignant small children), raviront the children: shark glouton and beta, martial crab, timid hippocampus... A good fishing
Help, I'm a fish! This Danish cartoon filled with shy hippos and jellyfishes wearing glasses is a good catch.

At sea, three children drink a magic elixir by accident. Help, they turn into little sea creatures. Help, the antidote of the potion pours into the gills of shady pilot fish Joe. The unpleasant small beast immediately morphs itself into a megalomaniac dictator of the deep sea. A title with bubbles, a fish with a cap, a jellyfish with glasses on- if one plunges into it abstractedly, this Danish cartoon seems to follow the expected and colourful trail left by The Little Mermaid. Not at all! The sweet, dynamic, bright little European fish gently drifts apart from the Disney whale , especially in its form. This dreamy mixture of traditional techniques and 3D animation allows pretty poetic and daring inovations such as the vision of a wrecked steamboat transformed into a gigantic City of Fish under the Sea. The characters are more traditional (sweetish bad guy versus witty kids) and will delight the children: a dull glutonous shark, a martial crab, a shy hippo... A good catch.

We can see that the translation obtained from Babelfish is not always grammaticaly correct, and contains a few meaningless passages.

Here are the mistakes commonly observed:

Unknown word: when a word that is not contained in its vocabulary turns up, Babelfish automatically borrows the original word and does not translate it. (e.g. "bébêtes")

Syntactic category recognition: mistakes the adjective "tendre" for a verb.

Expressions: BabelFish hardly recognizes expressions and tends to translate each word separately. Hence, the translation of "dessin animé" by "animated drawing" instead of "cartoon" and of "aussi sec" by "also dry" instead of "immediately". This also leads to grammar mistakes as in "a jellyfish with glasses" which should read "a jellyfish with glasses on".

Lexical desambiguation: BabelFish does not always choose the appropriate meaning of words: in "une bonne pêche" is a reference to the content of the fishing and not to the activity itself. Therefore the correct translation for "pêche" is "catch" and not "fishing".

Context clues: The critical review of the movie as published in Telerama's web site also includes some technical details at the bottom informing us that the original title of "Gloups, je suis un poisson" was "Help, I'm a fish!". A human translator immediately notices the repetition of "Gloups" in the text as humoristic reference to the title of the movie, and keeps this stylistic feature, thereby solving the problem of finding a translation for "Gloups!" Unable to relate the information, Babelfish simply does not translate the word.

However, SYSTRAN, the company comercialising BabelFish does indicate the limits of automatic translation in their user's manual: "Expect BabelFish to allow you to grasp the general intent of the original, not to produce a polished translation." We could then use BabelFish as a preliminary first draft for a translation.
In fact, the idea of the human translation presented in the third column was to simply correct the translation offered by BabelFish in order to determine to what extent the program could be trusted. In fact, it turns out that all the sentences have to be re-written to produce a text that is adequate with respect to both meaning and grammar. Modifying a quite poor translation implies at least as much work as doing it from scratch. Therefore, we will turn to other ways to use the web as a translation tool, such as the search on the title made in the above paragraph ("Context clues").

July 2001